Mentioning personalization and marketing automation in the same breath may at first seem like a paradox — the former describes marketing on a one-to-one basis, while the latter refers to software that helps marketers scale.
Read more: How does marketing automation work
Closer examination reveals that the two are linked in a significant way. Marketing automation software equips marketers with powerful targeting capabilities, thus allowing for more granular personalization of content, which most marketers know is critical to their success. So how do marketers personalize marketing automation, deliver relevant content that their customers want, and avoid sounding, well, like an automaton?
Using demographic data alone to broadly segment your market simply isn’t that useful anymore. Buyer personas that blend quantitative behavioral data with qualitative responses from customer interviews are now becoming the de facto way for marketers to target key segments of their customers.
Buyer personas combine data from a variety of sources to help marketers identify different segments of their audience. If personalization is the destination, then personas are the maps that help you get there.
Without any type of personalization, marketing automation can indeed make your brand sound like a robot. But when automation is used in tandem with personas, the software helps marketers create material that speaks to prospects on something very close to an individual level.
Practically speaking, this means personas play an integral role in shaping the type of content you feed your marketing automation software and the buyer journeys you build using your automation platform.
Speak to Individual Customer Challenges
Email drip campaigns are one of the most powerful features of marketing automation. Yet despite being able to segment, target, and time content delivery through these nurturing campaigns, nearly half of consumers report receiving irrelevant emails on a daily basis.
A better use of personas could alleviate this problem. Even though buyers may fall into the same customer segment, it doesn’t mean they have the same obstacles or even the same motivators.
Consider the differences in the main points of a chief marketing officer from an enterprise organization and a CMO from a small business. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that the number of people involved in the purchasing process for business software is inversely proportional to the likelihood that the company will buy.
Why? Because creating consensus among diverse stakeholders is difficult, and discussions most often broke down around simply identifying a solution — much less choosing a vendor.
Too often business-to-business marketers and sales teams target one specific executive — in this case the CMO — and try to sell them on just the value of their specific product. In reality, these buyers need help creating consensus within their organization, and they need information about the broad value of the solution itself in order to convince their colleagues.
Because of these complications in team decision making, only a little over 50 percent of buyer groups with five members (the average is 5.4) end up agreeing on the type of solution they need. Compare that with the 81 percent of decisions made by a single buyer.
Without accurate personas, it’s all too easy to assume an enterprise CMO and a startup CMO are generally interested in the same content.
Lumping both groups of buyers into the same lead nurturing campaign will inevitably alienate one or the other.
Rather than use personas to develop content that speaks to the distinct needs of each buyer, automation is being used as a blunt instrument to promote content that’s too broad or simply irrelevant (it’s unlikely that the single-buyer CMO needs detailed strategies for building consensus).
Develop an Accurate Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey has been described as a three-legged stool, which is a metaphor for “getting the right content to the right people at the right time.”
This is confirmed by consumer sentiment: 61 percent of B2B buyers agreed that the winning vendor delivered a better mix of content appropriate to each stage of the purchasing funnel.
Using the travails of the enterprise CMO as a framework, marketers can use marketing automation — again, specifically with automated nurturing campaigns — to build buyers’ journeys that deliver consistently relevant messages at every touchpoint, and at every stage.
This is another area where the qualitative and quantitative aspects of personas work well with marketing automation. If building consensus is a pain point for enterprise buyers, a mix of interviews, surveys, and analytics will reveal at what point finding agreement is most difficult.
The previously mentioned HBR study found that for B2B buyers, the solution-identification stage was the most difficult obstacle. Software vendors too often focus on promoting the individual value of their brand, rather than helping prospects identify the type of solution that would best answer their problem.
This is a mismatch in the buying journey. Software vendors were jumping ahead to the final vendor-selection phase, which was off-putting to prospects who were in earlier stages of the funnel. This misalignment worked against the vendors because it worked against their customers.
Using personas will identify which buying stages need to be better filled for which type of prospects — in this example, creating a series of detailed pieces around the overall value of any email marketing software would be the best course of action.
Once that buying stage has been padded with content, frame a section of the lead nurturing campaign around that pain point, and deliver that content to prospects who fall into that stage of the buying funnel, rather than provide them with information they’ve already read (like identifying a problem) or information they’re not ready for.
Because buyers’ don’t always follow linear paths to achieving their goals, you should also use the dynamic content capabilities of your marketing automation system to ensure the next email that prospects receive is based on behavior, rather than solely their persona.
Using buyer personas to strategically match your content to the purchasing cycle of your customers can do wonders for your conversion rates — like a 50 percent increase in form completion rates.
This is only one example of how to using buyer personas with marketing automation, though the B2B software buyer is a growing audience, and an industry where a lot of marketers use automation. By creating and combining personas with automation software, you’ll be able to practice marketing that’s both data driven and empathetic to the day-to-day obstacles of your customers.
In other words, you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds: marketing that addresses individual needs while maintaining the ability to scale.
About the Author: Zach Watson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, healthcare IT, business intelligence, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.